Coconut Cake

A birthday in the office calls for a birthday celebration, and thus, a birthday cake! And who volunteered to spearhead the birthday cake operation? But of course, yours truly.

It all happened so fast I hardly knew what I was agreeing to … I could hear the words ‘yes, of course!’ floating through the air before I even realized that it was me saying it! Oi, me and my constant need to please through my cooking. Eh bien

After quickly deliberating on my subway ride home, I decided (sort of) what I wanted to make, and stopped into Trader Joe’s to pick up some ingredients. Even though I had some ripe purple plums in my fridge, perfect for a seasonal tarte tatin, I decided that a cake was just much more festive and immediately thought of my favorite chocolate cake with mocha buttercream frosting. Then I realized … there might be more people, than there will be slices of cake! So I needed to make a supplemental treat. I can’t have chocolate cake AND chocolate brownies, and I don’t have the time to make lemon bars or cheesecake squares. I decided on my go-to rich and fudgy brownies and a luscious double-layer coconut cake that I’ve been looking for a reason to make for something like 6 years now.

The coconut cake recipe I used is from one of my most trusted celebrity chefs, Ina Garten of The Barefoot Contessa. There are a few chefs I can always trust to provide me with fail-proof recipes, and Ina is one of them. I just finished reading Julia Child’s memoir, ‘My Life in France’, and realized that Ina reminds me a lot of Julia. (Don’t you love how I’m on a first-name basis with these famous women? ;)) They both have a deep, innate passion for food and employ a sort of scientific approach to cooking perfection, that not many others have the patience for. And of course, they have both been inspired for a lifetime by La Belle France, which comes across beautifully in their cooking and writing.

I made only minor modifications to Ina’s nearly perfect recipe below – swapping out regular milk for coconut milk, and nixing the shredded coconut in the actual cake and only sprinkling it on top. I usually like my cakes free of additions like nuts, fruits, etc., so that’s the reasoning behind the latter. Feel free to take or leave my revisions! The frosting is a cream cheese and butter frosting, so I had to rely mainly on feedback from others, as cream cheese makes me feel unwell, but based on co-worker reviews, it seems the cake was a really delicious success. Bon Appetit!

Coconut Cake

Recipe adapted from The Barefoot Contessa


  • 3/4 pound (3 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus more for greasing the pans
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 5 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons pure almond extract
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting the pans
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 cup unsweetened coconut milk
  • 4 ounces sweetened shredded coconut (I actually didn’t add shredd

For the frosting:

  • 1 pound cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 3/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon pure almond extract
  • 1 pound confectioners’ sugar, sifted
  • 6 ounces sweetened shredded coconut


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease 2 (9-inch) round cake pans, then line them parchment paper. Grease them again and dust lightly with flour.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar on medium-high speed for 3 to 5 minutes, until light yellow and fluffy. Crack the eggs into a small bowl. With the mixer on medium speed, add the eggs 1 at a time, scraping down the bowl once during mixing. Add the vanilla and almond extracts and mix well. The mixture might look curdled; don’t be concerned.

In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. With the mixer on low speed, alternately add the dry ingredients and the milk to the batter in 3 parts, beginning and ending with dry ingredients. Mix until just combined. Fold in the 4 ounces of coconut with a rubber spatula.

[The most light and pillowy dough I have ever folded]

Pour the batter evenly into the 2 pans and smooth the top with a knife. Bake in the center of the oven for 45 to 55 minutes, until the tops are browned and a cake tester comes out clean. Cool on a baking rack for 30 minutes, then turn the cakes out onto a baking rack to finish cooling.

For the frosting, in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, combine the cream cheese, butter, vanilla and almond extract on low speed. Add the confectioners’ sugar and mix until just smooth (don’t whip!).

To assemble, place 1 layer on a flat serving plate, top side down, and spread with frosting. Place the second layer on top, top side up, and frost the top and sides. To decorate the cake, sprinkle the top with coconut and lightly press more coconut onto the sides. Serve at room temperature.

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